I’m Ringing People Up

From behind the counter, I keep an eye on the people. Baskets hanging from their forearms, they’re busy harvesting, hunting, and gathering, 2012 style. During this lull, I pull a roll of paper towels from a shelf and spritz the scanner.

The last person I “rung out” was visibly irritated when their Kombucha didn’t scan and I’ve found, despite everything I’d thought I knew about myself, that I like to make people happy.

Agata, the floor manager, approaches the register. She’s carrying two pieces of paper and she’s not smiling. Her English is passable, but combined with my poor hearing, we’ve had some early communication trouble. Agata is paid in cash.

“Chris, what are these?”

“I’m not sure, what are they?”

“Chris, they are invoices. They are your responsibility to put away. I tell you now, but next time, I talk to the boss. You understand?”

In the meantime, a customer has approached the register to witness this scolding. The customer is an old friend of mine, a real estate broker. When we first met I was trading and making well over $200,000 a year. He recently sold a house for over $10 million. I’m tempted to say that our paths have diverged, but here we are, involved in a transaction.

As Agata walks away he shakes his head and looks me in the eyes, “Dude, what are you DOING here?”

The answer is simple, I’m ringing people up.

A year after graduating from school, I drove across country. I was proud and I had one of those college stickers plastered to the back window of my car. But something strange came over me as I sped through Nebraska.

The road was empty that morning as I left the campground. It hadn’t rained, but the asphalt was dark with dew and the sky was deep blue. I drove a straight line through empty fields and came to a small rise where a black and white cow stood chewing grass on the side of the road.

I had passed many cows on the first week of my trip, but the rise allowed the black and white of the cow to be seen against the clean sky. I stopped the car and stood in the road looking at the cow chew. Such clean lines. Beautiful separation. True simplicity. Wind hit me and I felt some sort of ecstatic release. I screamed into the wind. I don’t know where the scream came from. I opened the back door of the car, reached in, ripped my college sticker off the back window and sped away.

I felt like no one I knew.

I wanted to be new.

So back in the grocery store, I guess the extended answer to my friend’s question is that I’m ripping the old stickers that defined me off the vehicle that dropped me off in this spot. My position isn’t easily explained, but it’s true. This hasn’t been easy. Quite the opposite. In the last 3 weeks since I’ve started this job I’ve often felt humiliated, embarrassed, and sometimes angry at myself.

Judy understands. She’s my guide.

She says that not many people could do what I’m doing.

She says the hardest part is over.

She says this is a beginning.

She says I’m not a check out boy.

She says I’m just a baby.

She says I’m terrifying.

Want to be terrified?  Follow me on Twitter.

Exit Music.

Susan Orlean Laughed At Me

I woke this morning and checked my twitter account. A couple of new follows and, what’s this? An @ reply from Susan Orlean.

Susan Orlean.

Susan Orlean, the same woman who wrote a book about Rin Tin Tin that I fondled in a bookstore in Montpelier, VT this past weekend. I didn’t buy it. It was $26.99 and I’m unemployed and poor. Instead I opted for a slim Pema Chodron book about confronting your fears. But Susan Orlean laughed at me. Pema Chodron wouldn’t laugh at me.

A trinity of "ha."

Ha times three. Two exclamation points. She could have written just one “Ha,” and no exclamation. She didn’t need to write back at all! The effort she took, to write three! A trinity of Ha! And TWO exclamation points. I was in ecstasy.

I looked back at what I had written to her last night. I commented on a picture she had posted. I looked again at the photo. I thought of Susan Orlean laughing at me. I closed my eyes and dropped off into a reverie as I imagined being with her as she took the photo.

The photo that launched a blog post.

We’re walking down Brighton Way together, my arm around her slender waist. I have no idea why I’m in L.A. because I’m a walking city/cold weather kind of guy. I can only imagine that I’ve been summoned there by Susie. She knows I’m married, and heck, twenty years her junior, but I know that’s what attracts her to me. She is, afterall, a powerbroker, and I’m sure there have been countless “boys” like myself along the way, servicing her. I’m trying to come to terms with this, thinking deep thoughts about my position in her life when she comments on the sunset.

“Isn’t it pretty?” she says.

She takes her iPhone, snaps a shot, and shows it to me.

I bend down to look at it and when I do so, her wispy hair gets caught in my beard. I take a sniff. She smells of Thieves. I even extend my tongue just a bit to take a little taste. Bananas. Weird. Wasn’t expecting that…

“If only the sunset wasn’t detracting from the simple beauty of the Citibank sign,” I say.

Susan Orlean laughs lightly. “You’re so funny,” she says as she gives my ass a hard slap.

She tweets her photo and then says she has to go. Wilco concert.

Wilco. Can’t believe they’re still putting out music. “Great band!” I say. I know she’s going with her husband and I feel a pang of jealousy, but then I know she’ll be back in NY again soon to promote the Rin Tin Tin book.

“God,” I think. “You really have to make it to write a book about Rin Tin Tin…”

Susie discussed Rin Tin Tin on The Colbert Report

“Wait,” I say, as she steps into her limo. “When will I see you again?”

But before Susie can respond, my wife barges into the office and I’m thrust back into reality.

“What’s that? she says, referring to the picture on my screen. “Oh, it’s just a picture of a sunset. Susan Orlean posted it last night. The famous writer? I commented on it and then she replied to me. She thought my comment was funny, can you believe that?”

Judy ignores this and says, “Well, since you’re not busy, can you brush Tilly’s hair?”

Tilly walks in. “Daddy, guess what shirt I’m wearing today.” And then, without skipping a beat, “Hey, you peeked!”

“No! Wait!” I say. “You just walked into my line of sight!”

“No, you peeked!” Tilly starts to cry. Judy shoots me a glance and walks out, tossing the brush at me.

Feeling somewhat like Francis Weed, I pull the knots out of my daughter’s hair. I’m good at brushing women’s hair now, and I think again of Susan Orlean. What a beautiful name. Susan Orlean. So many long vowels. She’s a redhead. I drop back into my imagination…

She’s sitting at the edge of her bed, fully clothed. I’m kneeling on the bed behind her, naked, brushing her hair. She’s going on about the history of war dogs in WWI. It’s interesting enough, but I’m more concerned with trying to keep my stomach from growling. I’m starving and she hasn’t let me eat in hours. She has, to put it mildly, an insatiable sexual appetite.

My imagination jumps foward a year. We’re at a dinner party together, me and Susie. New York. We’re drinking white wine and having a conversation of sorts. But since I’m broken socially, it’s halting and awkward. It’s okay, Susie accepts that about me. She understands awkward conversations are what I do best. She understands me as an artist.

I have a new book coming out, about nothing. About being awkward. I hope people will laugh at it but chances are it’ll fill them with pity. It’s going to fail. But it’s not due out for a few weeks and as far as this group of literary types are concerned, I’m still full of possibility. Susie is introduciing me to all her friends. I think about a piece James Atlas wrote years ago. It was called “The Fall of Fun.” It was about how calculating literary types have become. No more Bacchanalia. No more drunken mistakes.

Apparently James Atlas hasn’t met Susie. She’s wasted and I know what’s coming. She booked a hotel room. It’s going to be a long night.

My daughter yowls. I’ve been brushing her hair for a good 15 minutes. It’s overbrushed and full of static. Judy is yelling at me from the bottom of the stairs to hurry the fuck up.

“I’m sorry,” I yell down the stairs. “I lost track of time.”

“Feh,” she says.

Driving my daughter to school I wonder if Susan Orlean will like my kids. At school dropoff I see a friend. He asks what’s up, and I play it cool. I don’t tell him that Susan Orlean laughed at me.

“Still looking for a job?” he asks. There’s a strong hint of schadenfreude in his voice.

“Yeah,” I say, “but I have a couple of leads.”

I smile. The day is full of possibility.

—————————————————————————

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Exit music.

Death And Costco

A false advertisement.

Judy and I took a road trip to visit her brother, who lives in the “cradle of civilization,” Staten Island, New York. Staten Island is a classic place, and worth visiting if you miss the 1980s.

Anyway, on our way home, I decided to stop at my mother’s house. Shortly after we arrived, the skies darkened, winds turned the leaves on trees, and a bizarre light suffused the area. In a matter of minutes, the power was out and we were in the basement rummaging for candles.

The trip had made me feel very in touch with my mortality. Perhaps it was because we hadn’t seen Judy’s brother in a while and his hairline had receded.  Perhaps it was because when we sat down to play Risk we found tallies of games played years ago. I don’t know exactly. But for whatever reason, I had this feeling that my daughters were growing quickly, and that people I love were getting old while I wasn’t paying attention.

I noticed the eroding power of time.

And on another level, thoughts of my own mortality paid me a visit as I lay in my brother in law’s bed with Judy, unable to sleep at 2am. The bedroom window was cracked, and sitting on a concrete wall in front of the house, a girl spoke on her phone.

“He will be WASHED. I’m gonna WASH his ass!” (Pause) “BITCH, I already been in jail so don’t think I fucking care. He’s gonna git WASHED.”

I crept over to the window holding my breath, and looked down. She shone yellow under the streetlight, her back to the house, hand waving in the night, alone. I was waiting for a gunshot. I was hoping her mother would come, find her, tell her everything was temporary, and give her a hug or something.  She’d find another man.  One she didn’t want to murder.

So the thing is, once the power went out at my mom’s house, the vague feelings of threat that had built up in me during our visit to Staten Island, conspired and gave me the urge to “stock up” on supplies.

To get stuff.

And so 15 minutes later, my mom was flashing her “membership card” at some 90 year-old security guy, and Judy and I were strolling into a Costco.

An aisle at Costco

Now, I’m a very cultured guy, but I’ve never been in a Costco.

After a few minutes of walking around aisles wide enough to allow the easy passage of very obese people and wondering if we really needed 28 glue sticks, I started thinking about the middle of America. I thought about the Iowa caucus.

“Rick Fucking Santorum. Sheesh.” I grabbed a sleeve of 36 D-size batteries and threw it into our cart. “I bet my immigrant Italian ancestors were nothing like his immigrant Italian ancestors.” I said aloud to no one in particular, “Who the hell has seven kids in this day and age? God Bless him though…”

An old woman who was eyeing a huge box of discounted Christmas lights heard me. She said, “God Bless” and tottered by.

I looked at Judy, my waifish yoga wife, and compared her to a 300-pound woman riding around in one of those electric wheelchairs. I thought of three Judys in one big “Judy body” while I reached for a Red Cross Emergency Kit. “Maybe Judy needs to gain a little weight,” I thought to myself.   I threw a 3 million candle spotlight into our cart.

A mom and her son, both huge, were looking at bags of chips.

“Those bags are bigger than the other ones we got,” the son said while giggling.

The mom giggled back at him. They stood there like that, in front of the chips, shoulders shaking, necks all loose, laughing. I walked by them and picked up 1000 feet of aluminum foil.

“I can’t believe Weisenthal thought Michelle Bachmann’s eyelashes were real” I thought. “Damned Krugmanite should stick to FRED charts.”

Costco sized eyelashes.

I spent a long time contemplating a generator before Judy pulled me away.  I listened to a salesman talking to an old guy about Tums.

“If you have a few people in your family taking these,” he explained slowly in a serious tone, “buying in this quantity is a very economical way to go.”

The old guy nodded thoughtfully, and added the gallon-sized tub of Tums to his cart.

All around me, different people were having different conversations but the words I heard were the same… “big,” “bigger,” and “biggest.” An 87 year old woman wearing a Costco visor was handing out free samples of grape juice.

“Where could I find the green tea?” I asked.

“Aisle 32,148,” she said, as she continued to pour the juice into tiny plastic cups.

She didn’t even look up. She was like an 87 year old robot, lifting the plastic cup from the stack, placing it on the counter, and then filling it with purple… over and over. I felt a pang of sympathy for her and remembered how it used to be when old people retired.

“But hey,” I thought. “She probably had credit card debt, and should be happy Costco gave her the opportunity to pay it off.”

Behind me, a lady was struggling to carry a huge bag of red meat. She was grunting as she lugged it toward her double-size shopping cart. I imagined her, as a cavewoman or something, trying to drag a dead boar to her fire. She was hunting here, at Costco.

Other people were pawing over discounted books. One large woman was reading the back cover of a book about the South Beach diet and another, equally large woman, came over and told her that it changed her life.

Men were buying quantities of meat, and cases of beer. They wore sports jerseys and Nascar caps. The mood was light. The people were happy. They were filling their carts. They were getting good deals on big stuff.

What more was there?

We got to the checkout and I realized, in a panic, that there was no way we could fit this stuff into my small car.  I worried about this, out loud, to my mother.  A man in the next checkout lane overheard our conversation.

“Oh, you find ways to fit it all in. You always do,” he said.  Lightheartedly, he laughed, and I felt like I was a member of some new club.

This man was my brother. He spoke in open-ended terms, he sounded wise. He too had found it difficult to fit the absurdly large quantities of stuff into his car, but he had managed. I would manage too.   I could consume.  There was no reason to worry.

I laughed with him. “Oh, I’ll fit it in! Ha! Ha! Ha!”  I thought about purchasing a larger car.

What Costco looks like from heaven.

We exited Costco through automatic sliding doors and I looked out over the vast parking lot towards where the horizon should be (instead there was a BestBuy or something). A funnel cloud descended, slowly and silently from the close black sky.

I thought the coincidence of my first Costco trip coinciding with my first funnel cloud was just too much.

The hulking warehouse. The parking lot. The cloud.  Death.

It made me feel American.

But at the same time, I lost a little faith in my purchases.

———————————————————–

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OMFG! OMFG! BONUS BLACK FRIDAY COMPANION VIDEO!!!

Mistletoe

On Christmas Eve, Judy sent me out to buy some mistletoe.

“It’ll give the house a fresh, ‘Christmasy’ kind of feel,” she explained.

organic, locally-sourced, mistletoe

So I drove to the local garden center and asked the somewhat “fish-eyed” looking girl behind the counter if she had any mistletoe.

“We sure do,” she said with a decisively southern twang.

Now, her accent should have indicated that something was seriously wrong. Like most northerners, I hear a southern accent and I think “Oh, this person is an idiot,” or, “Jerry Springer.” But since it was Christmas and I was feeling somewhat charitable, I hung around and let her show me the mistletoe.

From a cardboard display that looked like it once housed car deodorizers, little plastic bags marked with the words “Fun Time Mistletoe!” hung.

The counter girl started with the hard sell. “It’s real mistletoe…they just freeze dry it so it stays fresh longer,” she said. “The berries are fake because they’re poisonous or something.”

I picked up a bag and looked closely at the product inside. The plastic crinkled. The “mistletoe” was hard and an unnatural color of green.

“This is real mistletoe?” I challenged.

“Yup,” she said. “Just freeze-dried. They stick it in a freezer. Makes it last longer.”

“And when I take it home,” I said slowly, “it will ‘spring to life’ and look ‘Christmasy’?”

She started to get defensive. “Yup, it should… I don’t see why not. It’s real mistletoe.”

So I ponied up the $2.17 and took the plastic package home. Needless to say, Judy wasn’t impressed. However, it made my daughter very happy.

She stood under the mistletoe doling out “Christmas Kisses!” for the better part of the day. Even the cats got their share.

(note: this was originally published to my old blog, in 2007.)

For more on the war against Christmas, follow me on Twitter.

I Quit Trading And The Sun Still Rises

I transferred all the money out of my trading account, and went to sleep.

A scraping sound against my bedroom window woke me in the middle of the night.  I lifted the blind.  There was a man with a headlamp clinging to the top of a large evergreen tree. He could have reached out his hand and pulled my beard.

I opened the window.

“What the hell are you doing?” I said.

“Putting a floodlight in this tree.” The floodlight was pointed at my window.

“It’s three in the fucking morning! Get out of my backyard before I call the police!” I yelled.

“This isn’t your backyard. It belongs to that guy.” He pointed a finger at a man who was walking around with a bullhorn, barking orders. It was my neighbor.

a man with a bullhorn barked orders

“Bring the tree closer to the house,” my neighbor was saying to a man driving a tractor. “I don’t want to see a single shingle on that house.” He was talking about my house. They were surrounding my house with trees. The trees were planted right up against my foundation.

“Hey,” I yelled from the open window. “You’re in my backyard! This is my house!”

He laughed at me and walked away.  “Nothing you can do about it now.”

I stepped back from the window. I was angry but felt impotent. All those people out there on my property transforming it; I couldn’t stop them. They’d dug holes. Planted roots. Thousands of pounds. Trees and dirt. Who was going to dig them up and take them away? I couldn’t do it. The trees could be up against my house like that forever.

I walked across the hall to where my wife and daughters were sleeping.  I shook Judy’s shoulder and whispered into her ear, “They’re in our backyard and there’s nothing I can do.”

“We’ll sell the house and rent” she said, half asleep.

“We can’t give up like that! We can’t let this guy surround our house with trees!” I wanted to fight but I needed troops. I looked out their window. A flood light shone in. A tree branch pushed up against the glass. “It’s too late!” I said. “The branches are going to come through the windows. The roots will ruin the foundation. We have no choice but to leave!”

tree roots as a destructive force

My 7 year old woke up, or maybe she was awake the whole time and just spoke up. “We can’t leave until after 5th grade,” she said.  “I don’t want to go to another elementary school.” Then she started to cry.

“See what you’ve done now?” Judy said. She hugged my daughter. I felt like an asshole. I felt very alone. I had to take care of the trees. “I’m sorry I woke you up,” I said to my daughter and I left the room. The whole house was swaying in the breeze.

————————————————————————–

I woke up and peeked out the window. My backyard was the same it had been when I went to sleep. “Fucking nightmares,” I thought to myself. I felt a mixture of relief and foreboding and then went downstairs to cook my daughter’s breakfast.

When I was in college I’d dream of tornadoes. These dreams would fill me with panic but they never felt real. As an adult I’m finding the distinction between my life and nightmares has blurred considerably. I wake up now and check in on my daughters sleeping and wonder how I’m going to keep my house. I wonder how I’m going to provide them with the consistency children need.

I’ve stopped trading. Trading is all about control; having it and keeping it. No one can fire you except yourself. No one makes a bad trade except yourself. Of course, the big lesson I’ve learned in life is that any feeling of control is a complete illusion. It’s best to surrender. But to what? I don’t have a whole lot of faith in anything right now. Perhaps that is what I need. More faith.

trading is all about control.

I drove my daughter to school and after I dropped her off, I called a friend to meet me for coffee. I wasn’t sure what I’d do at 9:30 if I wasn’t sitting in front of my desk staring at the quotes.

We grabbed our coffees and sat. “So what’s going on?” he said.

“Not much,” I said. It seems we’ve started all of our conversations like this in the last few years.

He told me he had bagged a turkey. “I cleaned it in my studio,” he said. “To keep warm I burned an entire pile of junk mail in the stove. It was like the American Dream.” He smiled.

“You have any feathers?” I asked. My daughter collects feathers.

“Sure, loads.”

And with that we were in his car and driving to his studio. It’s a cramped and dusty place, a garage that’s slowly being taken over by the vegetation around it. It reminded me of my dream. Half of the studio is home to machines that he uses to build his dark inventions, the other half is where he paints.

“I need more space” he said. “You want to take a painting for a season? These really shouldn’t stay in the studio through the winter.”

“Yeah, I’d love one,” I said, thrilled.

He reached into what looks like an over-sized file cabinet and slid one out. “You like this one?” he asked. I did. The painting he pulled looked like the marriage between a scrambled television and a Hiroshige wood cut. There’s a sense of vertical movement and of repetition. It fit my current mood: scrambled, repeating, but with a hint of beauty.

untitled by jameson ellis

I took it home and brought it up to the office where, until the day before, I traded. I leaned it against a wall. I was excited to have it. When my daughter returned home from school it was the first thing I told her.

“Look, my friend gave me a painting. Do you want to see it?”

“No. Can you play with me?”

“Yes, I will. But first I want you to come look at the painting. I want to know what you think it is.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes at me. Then she ran up the stairs to my office.

“It’s a sunrise,” she yelled down.

I walked up the stairs to join her in the office. I looked at my trading setup, still intact.

“I’ll be down in one minute to play.” I said. “I just have one thing to do.”

She sighed and ran into her playroom. I could hear her reading to her stuffed animals.

I removed two of my three monitors and slid the other over a few feet, exposing the wall. I hung the scrambled sunrise. If nothing else right now, I still have faith in the sun. It’s gonna go down in a few hours and come back up tomorrow.

And I’ll be here between the two horizons, waiting for my picture to steady.
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Exit music.

Memory, Mexican Food, and Eternity

John Lennon paid attention.

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon

Yesterday was busy.  Into the car, out of the car; small chores and smaller talk.  When we’re done we’ll get you a treat.  Strap her in.  Why is your sister crying?  We need gas.

Once or twice I glanced in the rearview mirror and watched as my seven year old absently stared out her window.  Which moment would hang in there and become a memory of dull security and comfort thirty years down the line?  Tires humming, Mom and Dad in the front; blurred trees. Would she try her entire life to regain that vague feeling of safety?  The whole thing filled me with an urge to be better and then, immediate frustration.  It’s just that I’m having a harder time changing as I age.  I think about myself in a certain way, and my anxieties are set.  Eventually I rolled the car back up our driveway and when we entered the house, we realized we never planned dinner.

Judy called in some Mexican food and fifteen minutes later, I backed down the driveway past the electric deer grazing on our lawn, and turned towards town.  The CD player in my car is broken, and since my iPod broke after only 2 years I’ve decided it’s not worth replacing.  So I’m back to old mixtapes.  Their labels have long since lost their relevancy so every time I bring a new one into the car, it’s a surprise.  The one I chose was full of music I hadn’t listened to in fifteen years.

Electric deer.

I thought back to a couple of girlfriends from that era who had attended concerts with me.  We shared good times, broke up, and then I stalked them both for years, but amazingly, neither worked out.  I thought back to another girl, one who would hang out with me in my dorm room.  We’d get high and listen to music and then write.  She moved to Italy and disappeared completely.  What happened to these people?  I felt ambushed by the past as I drove over the small bridge that leads into my town.  Five minutes before I was in my house with my wife and growing daughters and then suddenly, I was in my dorm room with candles melting and a girl swaying to music with her eyes closed.

When you’re young you can’t understand how the past could ever tempt you. I’m getting older.

Anyway, I made it to the Mexican place and parked in the empty church lot across the street.  I love December because it gets dark at 4:30.  We eat early, go to sleep early, and wake early.  The taqueria was brightly lit against the darkness, like a Christmas pin on a goth chick.  No one was around, it was perfectly silent.  The only sound I noticed were the chrome crickets chirping in my ears, a result maybe, of all those concerts I attended.  The moon was full, and its light improved everything it touched.

The girl behind the counter was pregnant.  Maybe a few months…

“Do you need napkins?  Want hot sauce?” she said.

Thinking of my daughters I made a mental note not to check out her ass as she turned around to use the credit card machine.

“I’ll take some hot sauce,” I said.

Through a door that led to the kitchen I noticed a large hispanic man with his arms folded across his chest, glaring at me. Maybe he was just looking at me, I don’t know.  His hat was on backwards and he looked dirty.  He had just cooked food for my family.  I smiled at him and nodded in the way that white people smile and nod at menacing minorities.  He reacted by turning around to scrape the grill.

“Green or red?”

“Which is…”

“The red is hotter.”

“I’ll take the red.”

I wanted to ask the girl about her belly but I didn’t, just in case.  What I didn’t want to do was say something about the miracle of parenthood.  Not that I didn’t believe it, just that I would want it to be meaningful and it wouldn’t end up that way.  She had no choice but to hear whatever I said, so I decided to say nothing and free her of the obligation of having to listen.

More than anything, I felt some silent desire to help her and thought maybe that saying nothing was the best I could do.  I just wanted her and her baby to be okay but I don’t know why I think like that.  Of course they’ll be okay, right?  But she’s pregnant and there’s some mean looking dude cooking burritos a few feet away from her unborn fetus and maybe that’s what made me nervous for her.

I completed the transaction and entered the outside again.

It looked like a white spike.

Just as I started to open my car door the church bells started to ring.  I stood there to listen.  I felt secure.  Comforted.  What could go wrong when church bells were ringing?  The baby would be fine.  My family would be fine, too.  Across the street I could see the counter girl through the window, texting.

I looked away from the girl and up at the spire.  Huge white floodlights lit it so that it looked like a white spike piercing the dark sky.  You look up at a spire like that on a clear cold night in December, it’s so bright it’s almost loud.  And from the spire I looked up and saw the stars.

They were singing to me and I was breathing in planets.

No, you can just never tell what’s going to become a memory and what’s lost forever. So pay attention.
————————————————————————————
This holiday season won’t you please follow me on Twitter.

At The King Kullen

I walked into the King Kullen. It was bright, lit up like a sitcom, and empty. I was there for beer. I passed the fresh flowers that weren’t fooling anyone and walked onto the main concourse, feet clipping. It was me, the products, the surveillance cameras and some hum. The bread aisle was fragrant. Clear plastic rectangles full of split butter tops. Home Pride. I passed a huge poster of a smiling kid near the milk. The poster boasted of the nutritional value of King Kullen’s milk. King Kullen’s milk.

“Ha!” I thought.

I made a sharp turn and walked to the beer. At the case I was overcome with the options and couldn’t make any decision. I just stood there completely blasted for like, five minutes. Red-Tailed Hawks, American Flags. Beer and nature. Beer and patriotism. Dross dripped from the overhead speakers. Some mechanical beat and over it some false voice singing something like, “Don’t you feel so good.” And I just felt like complete shit. And I guess I stood there long enough, and I don’t know, maybe it was my paranoia but some girl who worked at King Kullen came over and started to clean the case, like, wiping down the beer shelves. So I picked some random beer that was at my price point and walked off.

There were no human cashier’s present so I went to the self checkout. There was a screen with a little cartoon person pressing a button and so I pressed the button. I scanned my beer, although it took me a minute to find the UPC code. And since it was beer, a little cartoon hand popped up on the screen, a pixellated palm telling me to wait. Out of a gray wall a gray door opened and a woman walked over, smiled at me, punched something into the computer at the end of the self checkout aisle and nodded. I nodded back. She was allowing me to continue my purchase, and so I did.

An odd pride settled over me. I walked near the doors and they slid open. Effortlessness everywhere. I left King Kullen with a girl who had just finished her shift. She was maybe 10 steps ahead of me and we were walking in the same direction. And I just felt like I was following her, even though I wasn’t. I was just walking to my car. I still felt, even though I was out of the store, that I was being surveilled. Surveilled and surveilling. I heard every sound in that lot.

I started the music in my car, and I drove to a house on a street.

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How A Pile Of Puke Helped Me Hold A Trade

Some days seem longer than others. Today was one of the long ones.

It started with my 6 year old daughter slapping the side of my sleeping face and telling me to “wake up.” Normally this is a cute, but after a cold weekend on a frozen river in central Maine “smelting” with college friends, I was hurting. “Wake up Mommy first,” I said. (Note: My wife, Judy, is 8 months pregnant and miserable.)

After Judy expressed her displeasure with me by banging the shit out of the pots and pans in the kitchen while she prepared my daughter’s breakfast, thereby disallowing me the luxury of extra sleep, I woke up. I walked into the next room and turned on my screens. The futures were gapping down a bunch. “Finally!” I found myself thinking. I immediately felt a pang of guilt as I realized the market was only gapping down because Gaddafi is a dick. The guilt eased as I decided that wanting a little stock market volatility wasn’t the same as wanting protesters in the mideast to be slaughtered.

Gaddafi is (was) a dick.

Look, as it sometimes happens in this business, what’s good for me is often bad for some, okay, maybe millions, of people.

That doesn’t make me a bad person. Hating handicapped parking spaces might though… they’re always empty. Seriously.

Anyway, I decided that it would be a tough day for support buys. We’ve been going up for what seems like forever, when we turn down for real, could take at least a few days for buyers to show up again. But then I always have difficulty shorting into a gap down. I decided to just chill out, take it easy, and let my long weekend wear off. My wife yelled up the stairs that they were leaving. They were going to have a “mother and daughter” type day. My kid is off from school all week. I said goodbye and the market opened.

Along with my friends at HCPG, I was watching SQM for a support trade at $53. When it opened there, I knew it was going to have to trade lower if I was going to get involved. It made a quick move down to $52.25 and started to bounce. Two minutes into the bounce, at 9:38 a ton of volume went off and I decided to give it a whirl. I picked some up at $52.57, put my stop just below the low of the day, and waited for the sweet money to hit me in the face.

The stock complied moving upwards very smoothly. I didn’t even curse once while I watched its ascent. From downstairs, I heard the backdoor swing open and then splashing sounds and some grunting. My wife was letting it all loose on the kitchen floor. “Hey, I’m trying to trade up here, for chrissakes!” No response… not even the customary “Fuck you” that such insensitivities should elicit. I moved my stop up to breakeven and went downstairs to “help.”

There she was, crumpled against the downstairs toilet, saying goodbye to breakfast. She told me to go check on our daughter out in the car. Now, I had seriously crawled out of bed and started to trade. Since I don’t turn the heat up in the house past 60 nowadays, I sit in a chair wrapped in a blanket my grandmother knit me when I was 13. So yeah, it’s over 20 years old and, well, colorful. I was also sporting the pajamas my daughter had given me for Valentine’s day (think hearts) and slippers.

I approached the car. She was drawing. She didn’t see me coming, but just in case she happened to look up, I decided to do the mock tip toe with a crazy look on my face. Heart pajamas, slippers, funny blanket, mock tip toe, crazy face… Of course, that’s when I saw my neighbor walking his dog in my direction. “Hi Jeff,” I waved. He gave me a strange look. He couldn’t have seen my daughter in the car.

People must wonder what I do all day.

I opened my daughter’s door. She didn’t even look up. “Daddy, I need a brown pencil.”

Back inside, my wife was brushing her teeth. I grabbed a brown pencil and gave it to her. I gave her a hug and apologized for getting her pregnant again. I also reminded her that women used to have many more kids back in the 50s and that if we didn’t have a boy this time, she’d be having another in about a year. She left unamused.

My SQM trade was working out despite all the hubbub in the house. I nearly sold some into S2 at $53.14 but given the severe bounce overtaking the ag stocks like CF, MOS and AGU, I decided to hold it a bit longer. I took off half at $53.36 and then the last half when the stock got rejected by the 20 ema on the 5 minute chart. My average exit was $53.42, for an 85 cent profit.

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Will Aliens Occupy Wall Street?

“Look,” Scott said, “I’m not sure if you’re the type of person who likes this sort of thing. Frankly, I’m not sure what type of person does, but I suppose there’s a type.”

Scott is a neighbor of mine. I hadn’t seen him for a month and this is how he greeted me when we saw each other in town a few days ago. Was he going to ask me to have sex with his wife while he watched? I hoped not. She was in her 60s. Was he going to tell me that he was an alcoholic? Was he going through some rehabilitation program where he had to awkwardly admit it to people?

“We were at a party this summer,” he said. “You remember the Denton’s? They used to live behind you?”

Yes, the Denton’s. They had two old dogs. One was senile. It would wander into our backyard and bark at my back door at 2am, lost. Jim Denton, was nearly deaf and had the bad habit of watching television outside on his patio. He’d run an extension cord and sit out there on the nicest days, CNN blaring, and he couldn’t hear a word of it. One of the things about working from home, maybe you take notice of your neighbors too much.

“So we were on their deck, each summer they come up and rent for a week at Bay Head. Bill was there too.” Bill was my other neighbor. An ex-NYPD detective. “The house they rent is right on the water. So I’m there, eating a hotdog, and out in the sky, I see these orange lights. They’re far off, maybe out over Blue Haven, but I don’t hear any engine noise.”

So it’s clear now that I’m being told a UFO story. What makes it different from the majority of UFO stories I’ve heard are two details. First, I know the guy telling it. Second, he’s a no-nonsense pilot and has been for his entire life. When he’s not a pilot, he’s a copy editor. He’s dry. A straight edge. A square. He’s never seen anything like this in the forty years he has flown planes. It’s clear that he’s almost embarrassed to tell me the story, but he can’t help himself.

Coming? Or already here?

Bill, the retired NYPD detective with whom he witnessed the orbs, is also not the romantic or dreamy type. In fact, in the eight years I’ve been his neighbor I’ve learned he believes in only three things: God, property rights, and the need for everyone to drive slower. He’s not the sort of guy to discuss UFOs.

Scott continues his story. “There’s a group of 5 of them. Then 10. They’re flying in two separate formations. I’m transfixed and I call Bill over. As we watch, two more groups of 5 join the first bunch and then one more. And we’re watching these 25 blobs of light move in a formation. No noise, no aviation lights, just these pulsing blobs of light moving in formation, fast. And then, as suddenly as they appeared, they shoot off and are gone.”

We’re standing on the sidewalk in town and people are walking past us. I feel some of them looking at my face while Scott speaks, but I don’t divert my eyes from his. I can tell he’s risking something telling me the story. All I’m conscious of is my daughter holding my leg and looking up at Scott with her big brown eyes. Judy, who is also prone to being freaked by the supernatural and aliens is also with me.

“Apparently,” Scott said, “the cops were flooded with phonecalls. The blobs were seen up and down the coast. They checked with all the airlines and the military. There were no light shows, nothing like that. It’s hard to imagine what they could have been.”

And that was it.

Judy and I talk about the story later. I’m more excited about it. Surprisingly, I’m focused on positive scenarios. “Imagine the aliens show up and solve our energy problems!” Or, “Maybe they come down and cure cancer!” Or, “They’ll need laborers… full unemployment!” Judy tells me that I watched E.T at a very impressionable age. “Stop being so gay about it,” she says. “They’re fucking aliens. They’d kill us all.”

Wondering, was E.T a pervert?

A day later I’m back at work and staring at my screens. It’s been a difficult couple of years. I’ve been looking back at some decisions I made and wishing that I had done things differently. During the day, I find myself going over to the window and looking over the Denton’s old house toward the sky. Nothing. A few feet away the headline machine is spinning through my screens. Fear is being sold. Europe is falling. China is rising. We’re a joke.

Maybe it’s best that the helpful aliens I’ve been thinking about don’t come to save us. Scrolling through the headlines it’s clear we don’t want to be saved. There would be absolutely no way for anything 100% positive to ever happen to our country without the media coming in and fucking it up. They’d find some negative angle and play on people’s fears.

BOO!

The aliens are going to steal our jobs, our spouses, our awesome health care, our freedoms.

Holy shit, they’re already here!

The truth is, and I agree with James Altucher here, even if some smart girl could solve all our energy and health problems, she wouldn’t be heard above all the din. Even if the aliens came and gave us everything we needed, we’d be focused on figuring out what the catch was.

I’m afraid we’ll continue to trudge along in the dark, complaining about the dim light and how we can’t afford to turn on the lights anymore. Our sides hurt. Give us a test. What’s that thing we’re feeling?

I’m looking out my window and I can’t figure out what I’m hoping for.

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Discussion Points

Do you believe in aliens and UFOs?

Have you ever seen a UFO?

Is there anything good about the media?

How Nevermind By Nirvana Cost Me Thousands

Kurt Cobain: Not a stock trader...

After yesterday’s rally I wanted to buy shit. I loved the action in $OIH coupled with the complete death and then resurrection of the commodities. The market looked like it was ready to breathe again.

But this morning at 7:30 when I flipped on my computer the futures were trading up near $1180, 20 points higher than yesterday’s close. I couldn’t buy them up here. I’d either have to wait for an extension to short or a pullback to buy.

At around 9:55 I threw on a quick short and scalped a point from $ES_F. I had no enthusiasm for trading and I walked downstairs to make some tea. While downstairs, the market spiked to $1185.75 and I missed a far better entry and trade. Now I really had nothing to do. I tweeted that I’d look to short again up near R2, at $1188.25 and then I started surfing around the internet.

Turned out that R2 was less than 2 pts from the top today.

Pitchfork isn’t what it used to be. For years I’d go there and get solid record reviews about interesting bands but I guess they wanted to broaden their appeal and started reviewing shit by Rihanna. Anyway, the lead review today was of the 20th anniversary reissue of the Nirvana album, “Nevermind.

I read half the review before I went to my basement to dig out the CD. The review was dry and written with some odd detachment that just didn’t make sense to me. My guess is that the author wasn’t a teenager when “Nevermind” was released. I’m 37. I haven’t listened to this album back to back in maybe 15 years, but I’m not quite ready or able to hold it up between my fingers and study it like some caught moth. I started feeling sentimental.

I thought back to the day I bought it.

My friend Pat was the first to get his license and a car. He had this Oldsmobile that his mom gave him. There was nothing cool about the car. It had fuzzy cloth seats and one of those hangy cloth ceilings. I believe the interior was maroon. We drove it everywhere listening to all kinds of weird music. This was before “Alternative” music was widely distributed and before “Indie” was even a term.

We’d go to the Tower Records in Carle Place. They had a tiny section, like, 5 or 6 rows of “Alternative” music. We bought stuff based on the cover art. There was no telling what the music sounded like because it wasn’t played on the radio. We discovered Primus and the Meat Puppets in this manner.

DaVinci to a 17 year old boy.

But on the day I bought “Nevermind” we drove to “Uncle Phils” off of Sunrise Highway in Massapequa. We bought the CD and had it playing as we head east towards the Sunrise Mall. As we rolled up to a light, we caught up to a man who was riding a bike. I looked out the passenger window at the man and he looked at me. Just as our eyes met the guy completely wipes the fuck out.

Pat and I began dying with laughter. The light changed and we kept on driving, probably just as “Breed” would have kicked on. Problem is, we’re having such a terrific time laughing at the biker’s misfortune that we don’t notice we’re about to drive up onto a traffic island that separates a turning lane from the rest of the highway.

Suddenly, we found ourselves on the island driving 40mph. We blast a road sign (THWAK!) and Pat quickly jerks the wheel so that we (BA-DUMP… BA DUMP) get off of the island and back onto the highway. I can’t forget the look we exchanged at that moment. A mixture of glee and horror.

We pull into the mall laughing. “Nevermind” has been blasting this entire time. I buy a new pair of Doc Martens. Green boots. The only time I actually remember wearing these boots was for a Skinny Puppy concert that Pat and I never actually attended. We bought tickets, took the train ride into the city and then realized he had left the tickets at home. We got drunk instead, buying cans of beer from the NYC delis who sold them to us. We careened around the city like that, from deli to deli, publicly urinating, until it was time to catch the last train back to Long Island. But then we missed the train.

I remember staring at those green boots in Penn Station for hours that night as I slowly sobered up.

Anyway, so here I am ignoring the stock market. My short area up near $1188 was pretty solid. We’ve dropped nearly 30 points from there in the last 2 hours but I missed the trade. I realize I still feel a lot like a teenager even though I’m a father and have real responsibilities. The green boots are still in my closet but my friend is long gone, lost to some weird illness over a decade ago. Days like today, I realize how much I still miss him and how I wish I could give him a call to swap some old nostalgia about the Oldsmobile.

Instead I pop in “Nevermind” and try to remember, more worried about the fade in my memory than the fade in the market.

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